Hi Captain Awkward
I have a casual job, working at a holiday camp. This job is about 4 hours away from home, and involves going and staying on the property while I work. I spent a couple of years after I left school living and working out there full time, but now I’m based in my home city, going to uni, and I work some weekends and holidays. I’ve known my boss since I was 10 years old – I grew up going to the camps myself. She’s a really lovely lady, who I’ve gotten close to over the years, and I’ve learned so much working out there over the years. Recently, though, I’ve had trouble balancing working out there and having a life back at home.
My boss is always asking me when I can come and how long I can stay, and… she’s hard to say no to. I always end up promising more time to her than I want to, and sometimes missing out on things I’d wanted to do. If I’ve told her I’ll work, though, then I think that I need to follow through on that commitment, unless someone breaks their leg back home.
Complicating this is the fact that my parents, particularly my mum, don’t really approve of my job, and certainly not the amount of time I spend out there. I’m usually getting pressure from them to be at home, and made to feel guilty if I’m not, as well as pressure from my boss to stay (what time do I need to leave? Could I stay a bit longer?).
I don’t want to let my boss down – it’s tough for her out there by herself. There’s not really anyone else there who has my experience or … this sounds a bit stuck up, but it’s true … my maturity. (A lot of girls start work there as teenagers, on a volunteer/work experience basis, and gradually work their way up). My boss can make me feel guilty in 5 seconds flat. But then, I feel guilty everytime I get on the phone to my parents and they want me at home. I’ve let them down a couple of times, because staying is easier. There’s just so much pressure, and sometimes I just feel lost – I cannot please everyone, or give everyone the time that they want, and trying to balance everything is just so exhausting.
Do you have any advice on a) working out how to spend my time and/or b) Saying no when people just want more of me than I can give?
Dear Torn Apart:
Turns out that I do have some advice for you.
One possibility: Look for a new job that is close to home, pays what you need it to, and lets you do whatever it is that you’re so great at at the old job (Working with kids? Maintaining a property?). If you can find a part-time job closer to home that would give you money and at least some of what you like, take it and give your old boss your notice. Strongly recommended.
Second possibility: Ask your current boss for more money. If your skills and maturity in handling the job are so unique, she should pay you more for the trouble of you coming out there. Script: “You know I love working here, but the commute and the hours you need from me are making it difficult for me to stay on. Would you be willing to give me a raise of $x, and in return, I will commit to y hours/month on this schedule?” Do this anyway, whether you look for a new job or not.
Put your schedule down on paper and keep to it, so it’s not an ongoing negotiation. You are right to keep your commitments to your job, but you are also right to say “We agreed that I’m leaving at 6, please don’t ask me to stay later. I’ll see you next weekend.”
Work it out so you still work at the camp part time on holidays, but it’s not your only job? That way you could help your boss find and train a replacement.
Shut down guilt. “Sorry, I can’t! See you on Wednesday!” Use all the strategies for shutting down unwanted conversations we talk about all the time on this site. One thing you (hopefully) figure out as you get older is how to say “I’m sorry you feel like that. I’ll be doing x, thanks,” and not taking the feelings of “authority figures” on as your own to play over and over inside your head. This is about learning to set boundaries and treat other people like adults who are separate from you and reminding yourself that you are separate from them. When bosses say “you are like family to me” or “I don’t know how I could get by without you” it can feel nice to hear but it is also super-manipulative because they are NOT your family and the best way to show appreciation for a job well done is money.
Your boss can try to make you feel guilty, but that doesn’t mean you have to feel guilty. If your parents call you and beg you to come home when you are at camp, you can limit phone calls with them or say, directly, “I have chosen to be here this weekend, I’ll see you at home.” Stop framing it as being “torn” between two authority figures who wield the power of guilt over you. You have choices about whether you are at camp or at home, and start framing it as a choice you’ve made. When you’re at home, choose to engage fully at home and not worry about camp. When you’re at work, focus on being at work and don’t worry what your parents think.
This is part of growing up. There’s no choice that’s going to please everyone, so you need to make sure you are choosing to do what is good for you and communicating that clearly.